Rail Transportation: One Vote for Taking the Train

SoNo Switch Tower Museum

SoNo Switch Tower Museum in South Norwalk, Connecticut
SoNo Switch Tower Museum in South Norwalk, Connecticut

Amtrak Passing Through Norwalk

Several members of my family moved to sunny Florida more than two decades ago. Since then I've been making the trip to Fort Lauderdale and environs virtually every year. Naturally, I flew (with the help of an airplane, thanks!)

Nobody goes to Florida in the summer, so, naturally, I usually made the trip in January or February. I've been uncannily lucky, missing some the Norwalk area's worst snowstorms.

Lots of people love to travel, but I've found flying to Florida to be more an ordeal than fun -- not to mention the expense. Planes are safe; that's not the issue.

Anyone who has ever taken a plane anywhere, and nowadays that probably means nearly everyone, knows what it's like.

Getting Ready for Flight

You nervously keep a watchful eye on radio, newspaper and television weather reports in the hope you won't have any delays or, heaven forbid, have your flight canceled. You pack your bags the night before your scheduled departure, setting the alarm so you awaken several hours before flight time.

If you're going alone, possibly because your wife objects to spending the whole trip playing golf on those sandy and watery Florida golf courses, your sympathetic spouse awakens early to drive you to the limousine.

Then, if all goes well, you arrive at the airport in plenty of time to make sure the airline knows you plan to be a passenger on their plane. You check your bags, and your ticket, and wait for the gate to open.

Wait, and Wait Some More

When, eventually, the gate opens, you check your ticket again -- this time obtaining a seat assignment, unless your travel agent had been thoughtful enough to take care of that for you. Then you wait some more until, finally, it's boarding time.

I've done all this many times. But it hasn't always gone so well.

Once a traffic jam forced me to do an O.J. Simpson imitation, running full steam through the airport and finally slipping through the door to the plane in the nick of time. Another time I had to wait many hours while another plane was sent to the Midwest to obtain a part so that a leaking hydraulic system could be repaired.

The Last Straw

And the straw that broke the camel's back occurred some years ago when Eastern Airlines pretended they didn't know about the ticket I'd been holding for weeks and refused to allow me to board their plane for a trip from Florida to New York.

I don't suffer through all that anymore!

It may be far from perfect, and it's not necessarily cheaper, especially if you take a sleeper as I do, but for the past several years I've been taking Amtrak -- and I love it!

A Restful Trip Via Amtrak

Contrary to what people think, it doesn't really take a lot more time. The 24-hour trip seems long at first glance until you realize most of it is overnight (if you time it right.) Plus the trip is restful and enjoyable, provided you're not a Type A personality and can't get where you're going fast enough.

Believe it or not, the food on the train is pretty darn good, and you have time to read, listen to pleasant tapes, and often meet interesting people.

It's only an illusion that flying means you get there and back in no time. The truth is, it takes hours on either side of the flight -- that is if it's on time, and, indeed, if it takes off at all on the day you're scheduled to depart!

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Jan. 14, 1997. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

Should passenger rail service in America be a higher priority?

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Amtrak 'Empire Builder' Sleeper Bedroom

Southbound Amtrak Acela Express, Branford Connecticut

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Comments 22 comments

jormins profile image

jormins 9 years ago from Chicago, IL

I used to love traveling on the train as a kid. I doubt I ever will again as financially flying is so much cheaper and efficient but since 911 flying has become a chore to me. I don't mind the extra security as it is needed but it really has made flying a very tedious experience these days. If I could though, I think I'd choose train travel over flying anyday.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 9 years ago from North America

We're to get a new passenger train route along the old 3C route in Ohio in about 3 years. It will certianly help out, especially since some of the Greyhound routes were eliminated. I've never ridden the train, but want to very much, even if it means going to Cleveland first, then back through Toledo to get to Detroit!

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

It's true, jormins; train travel is getting very expensive. I'm still mourning the demise of the trolley cars (See my hub Naked Emperor) because the automobile lobbies didn't like them. But, if miracles happen, America will wake up and make all forms of mass transportation free (See my hub called "Why Not Ride Free.")

Patty, that's great news about a new passenger train route in Ohio. It's a step in the right direction. Commuter trains are great -- I took the train from Connecticut to New York City for more than seven years (to college, and then to work.) The Amtrak sleepers are even greater. I took them to Chicago (once) and to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., (many times over the years.) The railroads need a new lobby.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

Travelling by train is the best way for me to travel and if i could travel the world by train i would.......Unlike other means of transport (plane, cars and boats) it has lots of room loads of people and it's possible to get off when you want. and i find it a much less claustrophobic experience..

I'm right behind you in the vote for free transport...I know many people who have family and friends on the other side of the country that have not seen each other for years because the train fares are too expensive and they never ever have an amnesty day so these people can see loved ones!

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for commenting, compu-smart. Free transportation would not only be good for the general population, it would be a big boon to the economy as well. Unlike the isolation that automobiles create, trains (and trolleys) promote friendship and camaraderie among passengers.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

Very good point about promoting friendship and camaraderie which quite frankly London needs very much!!

Bob 9 years ago

Bill.... I personally like to take the train if I can't drive. I love to look out the window at the country side. When you fly all you see is the same cloud you see from the ground , it's just the other side of it. If you have to make time , then the plane is a must , but for leasure travel , give me the train anytime.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for commenting, Bob, and I'm glad you join me in enjoying the trains. If you take the sleeper on Amtrak it's even better when you can enjoy the lounge and have dinner with folks you meet on the way -- I guess the smoking car is a thing of the past, no? As you can see, I haven't been on a train lately.

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

I once rode Amtrak from California to Rhode Island. It was a great experience and I would do it again. I met some interesting folks and had a sleepy good time. Great Hub.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I wish I could have taken one of the West Coast routes, suziecat7. I've traveled by Amtrak often, but never west of Chicago. It sure is a wonderful experience and it's easy to meet very interesting people en route. The Sleeper may not be as luxurious as a fine hotel, but I sure got some good shuteye on board -- not to mention listening to some great Bing Crosby tapes and reading a few (free) newspapers along the way. Thanks.

Fiddleman profile image

Fiddleman 6 years ago from Zirconia, North Carolina

My train rides have been limited to only a few while an Airman stationed on Long Island and having to deal with Penn Station and another I've since forgotten but my stop was always the last one. Beginning in NYC we would get off at a place called Speonk and were usually the last people on the train besides the conductor. Great hub Willaim

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America

2010: our Governor Elect does not want new rail lines or passenger trains; he's giving back the dedicated $400,000,000 to the feds. I'll never be able to ride a train through Ohio unless there is a change.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Local train travel is fast and efficient, Fiddleman, but long distance travel by rail is fun and educational as well as practical. The cost of rail travel would be better if the American people and our government gave it more support. More and better trains and improved schedules would not only boost train travel but would be a great boon to the economy. Thanks for the nice comment.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I'm very sorry that you have a governor who is so short-sighted, Patty Inglish MS. I hope that somehow you get to take that train ride through Ohio. Good luck.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

My father worked for Santa Fe, so we could ride the train any time for free. I used it often to come home from school on weekends, but the most memorable trips were the two to and from California. We didn't use sleepers, but sleeping sitting up was not as bad as one might think. And where else can you eat breakfast at a linen-covered table while watching the Rockies slide by outside the window?

It's a HUGE mistake that our government does so little to promote rail travel. Expanded routes and more user-friendly scheduling would go a long way toward weaning us off our addiction to air travel.

And you're soooo right about traveling by air NOT being the fastest way to go. A friend was set on flying from Kansas to San Antonio TX until I reminded her of the time involved before the plane ever left the ground, then the hours of waiting between connecting flights (if neither was delayed or canceled), and a second trip through security. It actually was faster to drive to her destination.

robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

I vote for the train too-- I really love train travel-- even though it has deteriorated a lot in the past few decades-- only problem is finding a train that goes where I want to go and gets in at something other than two in the morning.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

You were really lucky, JamaGenee, to be able to ride the trains free any time. But it only goes to show you that people will ride the trains more often if the prices and schedules are reasonable. For longer rides, however, the sleeper car is far superior to sleeping upright in the seats. It's probably a combination of budget cutters and the auto industry lobbies that are keeping the government from spending enough on rail travel to meet our needs. With all the problems we're having now with air travel, trains should gain in popularity over the next few decades. Thanks for your great comment.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

It's good to see someone who loves trains as I do, robie2. With luck the destinations and schedules of rail lines will be improving soon -- if only we can make people understand that it makes sense both socially and financially. Thanks for commenting.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

I have never ridden an Amtrak train...only a Royal Hudson steam train in Canada just for the experience. I think that if our government spent more money promoting mass transportation more people (including me) would be ready and willing to take that mode of transportation. Your way of traveling between New York and Florida seems to be a civilized and ideal way of getting from Point A to B. Thanks for sharing it with us.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks, Peggy W. I commuted by train from Connecticut to NYC for five years and, earlier, traveled from Yonkers, N.Y., to Norwalk, Conn., numerous times -- not to mention many long distance trips to Florida as well as to Chicago. I agree wholeheartedly that government should invest far more in rail travel. It's a wonderful way to travel whether it's short commuter runs or long distance travel. Local commutation by trolley car is even better. I hope someday they'll bring the trolleys back.

RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

We used to travel by train all the time - was much cheaper than even the buses, and what a great way to see the country! So many lines are being shut down now because of the high cost of diesel, maintenance, and lack of riders - can't seem to compete with the 'hound (bus) So sad - loved train travel as a kid, and still would love to have the leisure to do so again.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Traveling by rail (including by trolley car where they still exist and monorail) is comfortable, restful and fun, RedElf. It's good to see another traveler who loves trains -- there are plenty of us around but the present day high cost, poor scheduling and limited routes act as deterrents. Trains are a very efficient method of transportation, and the rates would be a lot cheaper today if more people took advantage of them. By comparison to the airlines, autos and buses, railways spend very little on advertising and they get far too little government support. Americans should be making a big push for better rail transportation.

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